One month ago, I blogged about signing up to do the DofE Diamond Challenge. I have recently returned from Calais and Dunkirk, where I volunteered in the donations warehouse and at a refugee centre. Although I had challenged myself to brush up on my French and to learn a few Arabic phrases, I did not have enough time to do so. I had also given myself an extra challenge to give up candies, crisps, chips, and anything deep fried for 30 days.
Why I chose my Diamond Challenge
As someone who loves history (and historical dramas), I always try to learn from the past and ask myself what I would do if I had lived back then (and how I could apply these scenarios today). If there were refugees fleeing persecution or a war torn country, would I try to do my best to help them? I knew that I wouldn’t want to regret that I did not do more (more than signing petitions and retweeting news) when I could have or to pretend that there isn’t a refugee crisis.
Since Calais is just across the Channel, I thought I should go over to meet some of the refugees, to see their current living conditions, and just to help in general. Although the ‘Calais Jungle’ camp was dismantled earlier this month, I knew NGOs were still in the area collecting and distributing donations to other centres. I signed up with Care 4 Calais and my first day ended up taking me to a refugee centre in Dunkirk.
Challenges I faced during my Diamond Challenge
- Going on my own was part of the challenge and although I’ve been to France many times, this was the first time I went alone (i.e. without anyone I knew) and to a non-touristy location (not that Calais isn’t a tourist destination) for a non-touristy purpose. Befriending fellow volunteers made the foreign city less intimidating.
- I’m very thankful that I can at least read French but I am still a beginner when it comes to communicating (i.e. speaking and listening) in French. I had a mini panic attack when I couldn’t find out where my Autobus was supposed to depart in order to get to my train station but thankfully, even with my lousy French, the locals were kind enough to direct me to the right place. Phew!
- Although I’m usually happy to help with any tasks, I generally dread being asked to do any food chopping. Why? I’ve never liked knives and I’ve generally avoided having to cook anything that requires using sharp utensils. Nevertheless, I found myself chopping onions (albeit very slowly and not minced properly), tomatoes, and peppers. The chefs must have wondered why I spent half any hour trying to chop one onion or tomato. Eventually, it became therapeutic but I suppose I’ll have to learn some techniques….eventually.
- I wouldn’t say I’m a pro child carer but trying to maintain order with children who screamed, ‘NO!’ like I was about to murder them frightened me. It was as if I could hear all their sufferings from the countries they’d escaped from and the not-so-nice police they encountered along the way. All I could do was remain calm. Thankfully, there were other adults around to help.
- Sorting donations in the warehouse felt like a day in the gym, lifting heavy bags and being on my feet for the majority of the day. The reward was working with nice volunteers, seeing how organised the warehouse looked afterwards, and having a good workout. Ha ha!
- It was much colder in Calais and Dunkirk. I thought I was prepared for the cold but the wind and dampness made the voluntary experience more meaningful, if that’s the right word. Had I been nice and toasty, I probably would not have felt what the refugees have to endure.
How the Challenge has affected me afterwards
- I have become more aware of what I have and have done my best to complain less. Because no matter how awful I think my day is, it couldn’t be worse than what I had seen in Dunkirk. I’ve realised that the basics in life (e.g. a home, job, citizenship / residence permit) are a luxury to many. By changing my mentality, I became less poor and more rich. Also much happier!
- By the end of the first day in Dunkirk, I knew I wanted to go back and volunteer – possibly next year.
- Giving up unhealthy candies and chips and crisps for a month has improved my skin and also made me crave candy less. Although I have now finished my 30 day challenge, I try to practice self-control and avoid these salty and sweet cravings.
As I’ve mentioned to the Supporter Communications Manager, we don’t stop after we’ve completed the DofE. We continue to find new challenges, step out of our comfort zones little by little, and learn. At the moment, I plan to volunteer in Calais and Dunkirk again and visit a prison in the UK. And of course, I am still keen on improving my French and learning Arabic.
On Monday, I learned that participants in the DofE Diamond Challenge now have until March 2017 to raise enough funds since the Duke of Edinburgh Award was founded in February 1956. Everyone is encouraged to complete a challenge (by 31 December 2016) that is meaningful to him/herself and to raise money for the disadvantaged youth (ages 14-24) in the UK. I encourage you to take part! 🙂
I would like to say THANK YOU to my supporters! As promised, here’s my short shout-out:
Svenja: If you love castles, sparkling jewels, and everything related, follow @sydneylux on Twitter, @mlle_cook on Instagram, and her blog castleholic.com!
Jessica: Jessica is your @GalFriday612! She’s very nice, super organised, a great pen pal, and loves cats!
Nigel: Nigel is a vintage-loving, hat-wearing, amateur photographer! Visit @chapeaunoir on Instagram!
I have to comment on such a lovely blog. V, you were so brave going all alone to Calais, but it was for a good cause – well done. I probably know more arabic than I do french as I worked in the middle east for 2 years and was posted to the Najran mountains for 5 months with a drill crew who spoke no English – so I had to learn fast – but is was a great experience, the children had never see a Caucasian before – so I had lots of attention. So I would have been totally lost in France with my very, very limited french vocab. Anyways it sounds as if you made the best of your volunteer time and helped improved the life of others, awesome. Poor you having to cut up onions, they make me cry at the best of times.
I totally agree with what you are saying about us being spoiled. I have recently started downsizing all the non-necessary stuff I have, just keeping what I need and use, and donating the rest. You will be glad to hear that I still have a few hats left!! N